Summer Ranch Update: Keeping an Eye On the Hardening of the Olive Pits

Summer has arrived at the ranch, and the warm weather continues here in northern California. Our ranchers are busy monitoring the olive trees to ensure they’ve got adequate water. I asked one of our ranchers, Brian Mori, to give us a ranch update, which you can read below. Brian works with our family farmers, or contract growers, on crop practices, harvest, and quality.

As we enter summer, where are the olives in their growth cycle? Pit Hardening Cropped

We’re entering another critical development stage. It’s called pit hardening. It refers to the actual hardening of the pit, or seed, within the olives. We test pit hardness in the field using an old-school method. Basically, we take a knife and slice into the olive. If the knife encounters a good bit of resistance, that’s a sign the pit is hardening.

Why is pit hardening critical?

Think of it as a development marker in the olive’s life. It gives us a sign of whether our crop is maturing on time – or whether it’s ahead or behind what we’d anticipated. Also, once the pit is fully formed, the olive begins to develop flesh around the pit. In addition, the olive begins to accumulate oil slowly. That oil accumulation accelerates in late summer and heading into the fall – particularly from September onward.

During summer, what are the trees doing? Artois 2013

As we get into pit hardening the tree focuses its energy away from growth and towards building up its olive crop.

What keeps you and the other ranchers busiest during summer?

We’re very diligent about maintaining proper irrigation to continue development of the crop. Otherwise, we’re mostly monitoring the crop to manage irrigation as well as any additional irrigation we might need to accommodate a heavy crop. As we get later into summer our focus will shift toward harvest planning. But that won’t happen until late August or September.

What’s the weather been like, and what’s the outlook?

It continues to be seasonably warm. And the outlook is for continued average to above average temperatures. The bottom line: Summer is holding in a dry and seasonally warm pattern, and we expect that to hold for the rest of the summer.

What’s the ideal summer weather for olives?

We like to see the temperature hold below 90 Fahrenheit. Once the temperature rises above 90 degrees the trees stop taking in energy from the light and, in effect, shut down to conserve energy. It’s like humans: If you get too hot your body slows its pace to deal with the stress of the heat.

Do you have a handle yet on how big an olive crop we’ll have come fall?

So far it’s still early. We generally conduct our crop surveys mid- to late July. But initial surveys indicate the crop will be average to above average in size.

Bon appétit,

California Olive Ranch Master Miller Bob Singletary